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Paul Jacobs has passion for pipes

Renowned organist makes Toledo debut at the Peristyle

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    Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs will perform at the Peristyle.


  • passion-for-pipes


Grammy Award-winning organist Paul Jacobs will perform at the Peristyle.


Story updated at 7:26 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014 to reflect the following change: Ticket information was partially incorrect. Tickets are free only for Classics Series subscribers. For all other series subscribers and the public, tickets are $22-37 at 419-246-8000 or

The pipe organ often is called "the king of instruments" — and not just by organists.

It's huge compared to any other instrument. It's complex.

Plus, listen to a skilled musician performing on a pipe organ and the nearly endless permutations of sound, color, and effect possible become clear.

It's all done with hot air, moving through a pipe and over a narrow slice of metal or wood.

So much sound. So few players — usually, just the one.

And the power possible.

Even in the dry old Peristyle of the Toledo Museum of Art, the 1926 Skinner organ can, in the right hands, rattle the plaster, maybe add a few cracks to the faux finish of the pillars ringing the classic hall.

That's what's in store when Paul Jacobs, acknowledged royalty among organists, makes his Toledo debut during an 8 p.m. concert Saturday. It's a special Toledo Symphony event offered to season ticket holders of the Classics Series, but open to all.

It will be a chance to hear a king playing on the king.

To chat with Jacobs, at 36 the youngest chairman of the organ department at the famous Juilliard School in New York City, is to think you're talking with that nice neighbor boy who grew up so fast, then moved away.

"Remember," he said at the end of a most genial phone chat, "there's another 'i' in Juilliard."

Such attention to detail is no doubt part of the reason for his meteoric rise through the ranks — rank is an organ term, by the way, for a set of tuned pipes — in a field crowded with talent.

"I don't come from a particularly musical family," said Jacobs, who grew up in Washington, Pa., south of Pittsburgh. "I had family members who enjoyed music but not in terms of serious commitment to unraveling its mystery."

His grandparents up the street always had classical music playing in their home. Young Paul tuned right in.

Then came his close encounter with the king.

"I attended church and heard the organ. It was there I became transfixed by the color, power, and charm of the instrument."

Jacobs was 5 when he started piano lessons; by age 12 he had made the challenging leap to organ, with its multiple keyboards, including pedals, long levers played entirely with the feet. Plus there was the bewildering array of buttons, knobs, and levers used to bring the king to life.

By age 15, Jacobs was head organist of Immaculate Conception Church, a local parish of 3,500 members.

He left to study at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music, pursuing a double major in organ and harpsichord. He earned a master's degree at Yale University, where he studied with the esteemed Thomas Murray.

In 2003 he joined the Juilliard faculty, being named to the chairmanship a year later. In 2007 he was bestowed with the prestigious William Schuman Scholar's Chair.

There, he teaches, directs, and advises, in between performances which take him across the country and abroad.

Jacobs played the first concert on the newly restored organ in Alice Tully Hall at New York's Lincoln Center. He is a frequent soloist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the San Francisco, Kansas City, and Cincinnati symphonies, among others.

At 23 Jacobs made musical history by playing the entire body of J.S. Bach's organ works in an 18-hour marathon — a magnificent present for the German composer's 250th birthday anniversary.

His 2010 recording of works by Olivier Messiaen on the Naxos label won Best Solo Instumental Grammy of that year, the first album of organ music to win that award.

Recently, Jacobs marked another milestone: giving a performance in each of the 50 United States.

His Toledo performance will bring him together with the TMA's historic Skinner organ, a 1926 four-manual instrument that originally was in the museum's Hemicycle auditorium. Opus 603, the organ's designation, had 3201 pipes and was the largest Skinner organ to have a player roll mechanism.

When the Peristyle was built in 1931 the organ was moved into the new hall. Then it sat, rarely used, hardly maintained.

Happily, the organ gained a second life starting in 2001 with a total, multi-year renovation. It was dedicated in 2005 in a performance by Todd Wilson.

"Skinner is known to organists as one of the most important American organ builders. His instruments continue to astonish performers today," Jacobs said. "America has the finest organ builders in the world now.

"That doesn't mean there are not good organ builders in other countries, but we in this country have the most significant concentration of fine organ builders."

Jacobs has prepared a program to tap the best of the museum's organ.

"The Skinners are often remarkably versatile instruments, though one does tend to think of them as best suited to romantic literature. Which I will offer, in addition to some earlier repertoire as well. What would an organ recital be without Bach?"

Also on the program will be music by Mozart, Elgar, Guilmant, plus a contemporary work by composer Samuel Adler, a fellow Juilliard faculty member.

Tickets for the Paul Jacobs organ recital range between $22 and $37 and can be purchased at or by calling 419-246-8000.

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